Rhys Chatham is one of the most versatile and significant figures in all of modern music, and if you don't know the name, you've heard the reverberations of his influence. And it would seem that he's done it all.
A classically-trained prodigy, Chatham was protegee to the world-renowned pianist Glenn Gould, and a student under composers Morton Subotnick and La Monte Young. In 1971, at the age of 19, he founded the profoundly influential music program at The Kitchen in New York City, which launched the careers of a generation of avant luminaries, including Laurie Anderson and Brian Eno.
In 1975 Chatham had an epiphany at a concert by the Ramones. His mission: to alter the DNA of rock by splicing the overtone-drenched minimalism of John Cale and Tony Conrad with the elemental fury of punk. The amalgamation was inspired, and it energized the downtown New York scene throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, making Chatham a founding father of the notorious No Wave movement. Chatham's influence spread even further as former students and ensemble members, including Glenn Branca and Sonic Youth, injected his raucous, ecstatic sound into the rock mainstream. In 1982, he even took to the road with Fab Five Freddy, marking hip-hop's first excursion into the heartland.
Throughout the 1980s, Chatham's ensemble continued to grow in size and scope until it became an enormous amplified orchestra. His 1989 masterpiece, _An Angel Moves Too Fast to See_, scored for 100 electric guitars, bass and drums, is one of the most extraordinary works in the minimalist canon and cemented Chathams reputation as a monolithic figure astride both rock and classical musics.
Since 1989, Chatham has received the patronage of Europe's most prominent institutions and municipalities, and his symphonies have been staged dozens of times around the globe. Most recently, the city of Paris commissioned from Chatham an epic piece for 400 guitars, which was presented at the largest church in France. Witnessed by tens of thousands of jubilant fans -- and glimpsed by hundreds of thousands more on television -- the event created a national sensation.
So, what do you do when you've already done it all? You get back to basics. You jam econo; you Get in the Van. You get down to . . . Essentials.
In September 2006, that's what Rhys Chatham will do. He's leaving his home in Paris and he's going to Georgia, USA, deep in the heart of the Dirty South. He's renting a van and hitting the road.
Rhys Chatham has started a heavy metal band.
Informed by decades of exploration in raw, electric minimalism and inspired by the slow-motion grinding of bands like Sleep, Sunn O))) and Earth, Chatham breaks down the conventions of the genre, reveals the fundamentals, then turns them inside-out. The name says it all: Rhys Chatham's Essentialist. Chatham's band-mates are a talented young group of New York musicians, including members of Jonathan Kane's February, Bear in Heaven and San Agustin, and together they conjure a hallucinatory, mind-crushing form of metal unlike anything you've ever heard.
Rhys Chatham's Essentialist is a hypnotic, exhilarating and sometimes harrowing journey to the core of a brave new sound, one that is all about the essentials; one that IS essential.
Just like Rhys Chatham.